Inside every language learner, there’s an adventurer on a quest to find the Holy Grail.
I’m not talking about medieval knights or mystical, elusive drinkware.
I’m talking about effective methods that help us learn a language; the one platform that will change everything.
From the one that took its name from a stone inscribed with three languages to another inspired by the biblical “Tower of Babel,” language learners have the opportunity to try many different methods to achieve this goal.
Oh and what about the one with the cute, green owl?
Yes, you know what I’m talking about.
I know what you’re thinking: “Great, another platform review.”
But bear with me adventurer. This isn’t a review.
It’s an examination to see whether the Duolingo method is actually effective in helping language learners like you.
In other words, is it the Holy Grail hiding in plain sight?
Let’s take a closer look.
What Is an Effective Language Learning Method?
Before we rush into the question of whether or not Duolingo can help you learn a language, we first have to ask: “What is an effective language learning method?”
By definition, it should be anything that allows you to reach a certain level of proficiency and confidence in a language—for your needs alone.
Although we’re still in the land of the vague, there’s a good reason for it.
The reason is language learners are different in their learning styles and needs. Tony from Sydney might be an auditory learner, while Stacy from New York might prefer to lace her studying with a kinesthetic kick!
Then comes the big why.
Why are you learning a language? Are you studying in college, or preparing for a trip abroad?
When we ask these kinds of questions, proficiency becomes relative and, therefore, what makes a language learning method effective rather relative as well.
Just something to keep in mind.
What Is the Duolingo Method?
Duolingo is a platform that offers free and premium membership in a variety of language courses.
In a nutshell, the method works by completing multiple lessons within a language tree, while developing knowledge and language skills along the way.
Due to the gamified nature of Duolingo, a visual style of learning is integral to the method and the experience.
Does Duolingo Work? Let’s See What Duo the Owl Has to Offer
Yes, Duolingo Works—I Totally Dreamt in Klingon Last Night.
Mastery of the four elements
Duolingo isn’t unique (but it’s still pretty special) in the way it covers the four essential skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing.
Because this combination is traditionally considered essential for basic proficiency, the platform can be beneficial for those who want to develop their skills in a more balanced way.
Motivation is half the battle
There’s nothing like language learning to knock the wind out of your sails. Worse still, it can be challenging knowing where to begin each day and what your objectives are.
Duolingo’s method of structuring the lessons into bite-sized chunks, allowing you to set goals and be rewarded, is extremely effective for those struggling with accountability.
If half of the process of language learning is simply showing up and being consistent, then Duolingo can help you to learn a language.
All of the platform’s features place importance on helping learners move forward, and so it’s, in this sense, a highly effective method.
Check out my new syntax
One of the underrated features of the Duolingo method is that from the very beginning, learners are introduced to sentence structure with an accompanying translation.
This might not seem the most interesting or shiny thing, but in terms of language acquisition, it’s extremely important. Being able to see, block by block the way sentences are formed, and the way grammatical units relate to each other shows learners how to express meaning early on.
What you make of it
In examining whether or not Duolingo “works,” it’s important to keep in mind that any platform or resource is partially what the learner makes of it.
What this means is that if you try to whizz through the lessons faster than the speed of light, don’t go back to review and don’t make full use of the options available—then, well, you’re not going to learn a language on Duolingo.
This means taking advantage of things like Duolingo’s “stories” and the forums where learners can offer and receive advice about anything they’re struggling with, from grammar points to cultural references.
No—My High Valyrian Leaves Much to Be Desired.
By its very nature, the Duolingo platform is a controlled, artificial environment that programs learners with its own “version” of that language.
Going out into the real world can be a very different experience.
Learners may realize that there are actually 10 different ways to say the one phrase they learned on the platform and that they can’t control the discourse as neatly when speaking.
In this way, the Duolingo method isn’t as effective as a method to learn a language or at least the real, authentic version.
For help with this, you can listen to authentic content in the form of real-world videos with subtitles through FluentU. In this way, you’ll learn all the different ways the language expresses itself in a natural environment.
FluentU is designed to get you comfortable with everyday language, by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversation with easy-to-read subtitles and supplementary resources such as quizzes and flashcards.
Not all languages are created equally
Since Duolingo’s courses are created by different individuals and that availability of resources varies, the Duolingo method might not be effective for the language you’re learning.
Different languages require different approaches, and since Duolingo applies the same methodology to all of them (with different levels of consistency in terms of content), you might not be studying your chosen language in the most efficient way.
Even though there’s a fair amount of vocabulary covered on the platform, it’s not diverse or challenging enough to learn a substantial amount of the lexicon.
Due to the repetition of more basic words, if learners put all their faith in the platform, there’s still going to be a gap in their knowledge. Vocabulary constitutes a large slice of the language learning pie.
The Duolingo method, which doesn’t prioritize vocabulary variety, could present problems for comprehension when striving for proficiency.
And now, the end is near…
Even if the Duolingo method is effective, like all things, there’s an end.
Although there’s no consensus about which level language learners reach upon completing a tree, based on the materials alone, it’s certainly not going to take you to an advanced level.
So while the Duolingo method may be effective in learning a language to an intermediate stage, there’s a point at which the method disappears, and learners need to find a new one.
So, does Duolingo work? After examining the effectiveness of Duolingo’s method to learn a language, the answer isn’t straightforward.
It’s not the Holy Grail, that much is certain.
But like all language learning resources, it’s simply one useful tool in a sea of many to help you on the road to proficiency.
Whatever this means for you.
Sophie McDonald is a freelance content writer with a burning passion for writing and languages. You can find her Twitter page here where she is probably talking about writing and languages.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.